Find support services weeknotes 27/11/20

30s read

– Three redeployees join us

– Accessibility testing complete on front-end and listings interface

– Waiting on security testing before we can go live

– Filling gaps in young people and faith organisations

– Developers churning out new features

– Data syndication to other services is officially A Thing

3min read

This week, we welcomed three new members to the team via the redeployment scheme: Raju from Libraries, Lavern from HR and Tamika from the Covid helpline. Give us a wave!

The prototype is back online (thanks, Marta Villalobos and Sandrine Balley in the GIS team) and so we’re back to cracking on with the new microsite that’s going to replace it. We’ve finished our bug-testing on the new front-end and its associated listings interface, which is used by voluntary organisations to add their services. 

Access all areas

There’s a statutory requirement for all websites to be accessible and Winston Mullings has been busy with accessibility-testing. For anyone not familiar with accessibility, it’s about catering for those with sight, hearing or mobility issues by, for example, ensuring fonts can be enlarged, colour contrasts are sufficient and interactions via keystroke are facilitated. This principle needs to be applied to both the snazzy front-end used by residents as well as the listings interface. We’ve got our accessibility statements at the ready (thanks, Gill and Iain) as per the law. 

Mind the gaps

While we wait for the new service to be security-tested, we’ve been cracking on with identifying gaps in our provision. Two areas we know we want to focus on are our young people and faith organisations. 

We’ve got a steer on the former from Lucy Clifton via the City and Hackney CAMHS team (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and the Integrated Gangs Unit.

Thanks to Simrat and Lisa-Raine in Policy for helping us out with faith groups. Religion plays a significant part in the lives of many Hackney residents and we know that churches, mosques and other faith-centred organisations are offering fantastic services from food to befriending to those of any or no faith. 

Hot fuzz

Meanwhile our developers Matthew Keyworth and Selwyn Preston are smashing it with the Nudge team (our digital agency partner) and cracking out new features including: the ability to create listings on behalf of organisations (and prompt them to join by sending them a login): associating multiple users with an organisation: automatically reminding organisations to reverify annually; and a fuzzy search on the front-end. Shout out to IT Enabler for providing the funds for these new additions. 

We continue to generate interest from others wanting to get their hands on our data. This is exactly what we want as we’ve built this whole service with data-sharing in mind. One of our metrics is counting how many hits an organisation’s listing has had not just on the Find support services microsite but across any other site or app that is using our data. Basically, it’s going to count hits on the API, for anyone technically-minded. Though anyone who is technically-minded is likely to be groaning right now at my lay interpretation of events. 

Good to share

The first of these interested parties is the Better Conversations tool formerly known as I Need Help that the Covid Helpline team uses to identify options of support for callers. We’ll be working with Zoe Tyndall to get the tool pulling in Find Support Services data via the API, offering customer service agents a broader range of services to signpost callers to; and giving our organisations greater exposure. 

A second interested party is DWP. Job Centres need to direct those Universal Credit claimants with complex needs to support options available to them; and we’ll be chatting next week about that. 

That’s all, folks! As ever, don’t be a stranger fss@hackney.gov.uk

Re-Engineering Hackney Content weeknotes 29/04/20

Hackney has a vast number of pdfs across its website and we spent time last week reviewing our options of where to put them. In an ideal world, this content would be in HTML and searchable and we will work with services to advise on this approach going forward. In the meantime, we still need to host them somewhere. 

Contentful has a very clunky way of categorising content that is not particularly user-friendly and, at some point, costs may be incurred. Google Drive, on the other hand, allows categorisation ad infinitum and has a significantly easier way of uploading content. It’s also a step closer to encouraging services to create documents in Google Docs instead of PDFs; which, in turn, is a step closer to HTML. We’ll be looking closer this week at this option. 

Working our way through Libraries, Archives and Culture has highlighted the fact that we pretty much need to design the entire site before we can launch any section. That means site-wide and page announcements, accordions, anchor links, newsletter sign-ups, contact blocks, iFrames for slideshows and videos, style sheets… all in desktop and mobile. The only design component that doesn’t feature in this section is tables, whose absence is not going to save us a whole heap of time. 

For this reason, we’re not anticipating being able to launch the first section until the end of May.

Helping us with content population this week are Boo and Neelam from Skinners’ Academy. They are here on a work experience placement and, lest they fear the digital industry is all about copy and paste, they will be chatting through design, development, user research and delivery opps with +Carolina Gaspari, +Mohamed Mulla, +Wingwo Kwai and +Philippa Newis as well. 

Following our belief that we can get the site down to a four-tier hierarchy, I won’t tell you how long I spent this weekend creating a Lego model of Hackneyville. This recreates the site-map of the existing website in glorious 3D Technicolor and highlights the towering scale of the regeneration ahead.

Re-engineering Hackney Content weeknotes 08/04/20

On Wednesday, our developer Mo came back for a well-earned rest after his intensive wedding duties in South Africa. He’s since been busy building the ability to link pages and assets within the site, which will make content population much easier. You’d think this feature would be out-of-the-box but we’re finding some curious omissions on the Contentful spec. 

We’ve also had a number of discussions around breadcrumbs. Should it be Hansel-style and show where you’ve been; or demonstrate instead where the page is within the hierarchy? After user-testing, it seems nobody uses them anyway except to click back to Home. So we’re going with Home/Service only. That way, users may be tempted to revisit the relevant service rather than starting back from Home with every browse.

We were very sociable this week. Carolina and I took ourselves off to GDS for a visit to the Empathy Lab where we learnt how different users access websites. Their goggle box let us experience different sight problems first-hand, their persona profiles emulated how a dyslexic person sees words on a page and their screen readers told us page content in varying intonations of cyberspeak. Gillian Newman is looking to set up a mini version here at HackIT so we can test more readily ourselves. This is a really important aspect of this project because we suspect those not currently accessing information via the website may be unable rather than unwilling.

We also invited Essex County Council to visit us as they are also using Contentful to relaunch their website. It was a really interesting and useful couple of hours and we’ll definitely be adding Helen West and her team to our Christmas card list. It was particularly good to learn that they have used Cludo as their search engine and we can follow in their footsteps when we implement search.

Finally, our next Show & Tell is this Thursday 3.00 – 3.45pm.

My mini-break in the Town Hall 27/02/20

I’m back from my holiday in the Mayor and Cabinet’s Office! This sojourn into political territory was uncharted for me and I’m pleased to return better informed about the machinations of elected office. I was previously entirely ignorant of the remit of the Office, relying heavily on the West Wing for prep.

One of the primary duties of the Office is to respond to residents’ enquiries. This ‘casework’ arrives via email, letter, Twitter or even directly as the Mayor goes about his day. Each enquiry is logged and forwarded to the relevant service for a response and the Office then replies back to the resident. It sounds simple, however, some residents are turning to the Mayor as a last resort and their queries are complex and multi-faceted. Some queries involve more than one service; some services are faster to respond than others; some queries, indeed, involve external agencies. All of this takes time and the officers really do go beyond the call of duty, and 9 to 5, to meet targets. I was involved in sending out responses and, when someone has a troubling story to tell, you can’t help but feel the weight of responsibility when you are the one pressing SEND on the reply. Still, the Office, led by Ben Bradley and deputy Alison Potter, is a chipper bunch and good spirits are maintained. Sometimes with Skittles. 

Hackney is a campaigning council, and actively participates in government discussions that affect residents. With 34,000 private renters in Hackney and 68% of Londoners supporting some kind of rent control (eg open-ended tenancies, caps on rent rises), I prepared briefing notes for a parliamentary roundtable on the private rental sector. This followed a Labour Policy Group meeting between the Mayor, Cabinet members and services where I learnt about the Capital Letters programme and Homelessness Strategy, as well as alterations to Hackney Central station. 

My shadowing coincided with a central government reshuffle and I researched mini-biogs for the Office about the new Cabinet appointees. We’re primarily interested in subjects pertinent to Hackney and I trawled through interviews, speeches and Hansard to gather their views on our big issues such as housing, fair funding and social care. Many of the newbies have been promoted from the outer reaches of the backbenches – an interesting fact in itself – and details were occasionally scant. It remains to be seen if the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will hold to his earlier conviction that ‘un‑ring‑fenced resources are better and local authorities should be empowered to decide how to prioritise money’; or whether funding will come from the Government with strings attached. 

You can take the girl out of HackIT but… naturally, I took Postits with me. One task was to map out stakeholders around the new strategy for an inclusive economy. It turns out there’s barely a sector unaffected by this and I hope my attempts to redecorate the walls of the office with sticky notes (not too sticky, Facilities) have at least covered most of the bases. I would hate to exclude anyone from the inclusive economy. 

It’s budget time and, every year, the Mayor films a video explaining its ins and outs. I had great fun working with the Mayor, Helen Clarke and the camera crew. Though, I think it’s fair to say my inability to secure coffee on a freezing day means my days as a runner are numbered. Though the Mayor himself barely raised a shiver as an icy chill whipped around Shoreditch Park. I was very impressed by a local kid’s ability to recognise the Mayor, and so ensued half an hour of autographs and questions in the adventure playground next door. No doubt leaving them with a story to tell, memories to hold and a business card to brandish.

I had the pleasure of encountering several councillors during my visit, many in the Cabinet. I was particularly pleased to meet Councillor Carole Williams, Cabinet member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources. When I was considering coming to Hackney, I read a piece by her on the importance of flexibility in the workplace. Having resigned from a job where my request to leave a paltry two hours early on a Friday was ignored not once but three times, it was her words that convinced me to apply to Hackney.

The Mayor and Cabinet Office also incorporates the Speaker. At Hackney, ceremonial duties are enacted by a Speaker who has been nominated by fellow councillors for an annual term. I had the pleasure of accompanying the current incumbent, Councillor Kam Adams, to a local primary school where he’d been invited to speak to the children about the Council and his role. It’s quite the palaver fitting the heavy robes and chain but the end result is suitably pomp. You can view the regalia yourself in the vaults at the Town Hall. The children were rapt during assembly – though I wondered if some of Nursery thought the important man in red was Father Christmas – and asked all manner of questions of the Speaker, including ‘How old are you?’. He took it well.

Having been the delivery manager on the ‘Re-engineering Hackney content’ project, I am well aware of the vast range of services provided by the Council. I cannot imagine how the Mayor manages to keep track of it all whilst also planning long term strategies and considering the wider political context. I now know that he is ably supported by an expert, but really quite small, troupe of personnel in his Office. They are preparing papers, answering enquiries, planning events, organising diaries and generally helping to keep the show on the road. During my brief stay, I was able to share aspects of Agile we use in HackIT that may be beneficial to the team and I hope they are able to put some of the ideas into practice.

They are only over the road. Pop over, say hello, and see if you can spot any Postits.

Re-engineering Hackney content weeknotes 14/01/20

This project continues to throw up a multitude of potential avenues to explore. As part of the DevOps trio of projects at the end of last year (excellently DM-d by Felix Tomlinson), we cleared a load of outstanding bugs that had been, well, bugging us. Plus, the proto-support process that evolved out of the DevOps experiment has empowered our infrastructure and app support teams to respond with gusto if the site has a wobble. We’ll confirm it’s working if the ticket I just dropped in the support desk ends up in the right hands! 

We weren’t able to settle all of our irks in DevOps but, in the spirit of continuous improvement, we continue to push the bar where resources allow. The commercial properties service now has a more visual approach, akin to its real estate competitors. And the road safety pages have benefited from an audience-centric restructure. We’ve run a few workshops with services to promote the concept of user-centred design and, if your service would like help with this, give us a shout. We’ll also try and come up with workshop templates so you could run a session yourselves. 

Some services require more of a marketing focus than others. One example of this is Hackney Museum. We’re working with Niti Acharya and her team to create a museum website that holds its own against other museums’ and tourist attractions’ online offer. To achieve this – with minimal additional effort – our front-end developer Emma Lewis has created a Hackney WordPress theme using the WordPress CMS as the back-end and the HTML components built for the Intranet for the front-end. This equips us with a wider suite of components from which to devise a visual, enticing design that will appeal to visitors.

We can re-use the WordPress theme over and over again, where needs require. And, in the spirit of open source, we’re seeking to submit it to the WordPress theme repository so other organisations can repurpose it at no cost.

Some of the third party sites to which we link continue to use ancient templates, which disjoints the user experience. Working through a schedule of updating them is a project in itself, however, we now have the UI toolkit to aid suppliers. Museum Collections and News are up next for reskinning. New suppliers should be given the toolkit during onboarding (with requirements included in contracts) and the design team, led by Joanne Moore, can assist with this. 

The Comms team continues to embed Site Improve into its business-as-usual routine to great effect. Thanks to Iain Sharp and Alan Jones’ sterling efforts, we are pleased to report that all four metrics of quality assurance, accessibility, search engine optimisation and digital certainty have surpassed the government benchmark. 

We’ve put Hotjar back on the site and the DevOps blitz has increased from 55% to 65% the percentage of users scoring the site at least 4 out of 7 stars. The 35% less than happy with the current sitch are often complaining about embedded apps not working; and we’re looking at how we can feed this back to services to fix. On that note, Behrooz Mirmolavi will be flying in shortly from GLA to talk about his role as a website data analyst, especially around Google Analytics and Hotjar. All Hackney staff are invited so get your diaries prepped for 10am on 30th January, 4th floor HSC. Save your spot or miss out!

(You don’t actually have to save your spot, just turn up)

Team-building in our glorious parks 07/10/19

Last Thursday, you may have noticed a dearth of relationship managers and delivery managers on the 4th floor. It was probably quieter. There was probably more room in the fridge. It was because we were on staycation!

Our day’s volunteering in London Fields with Parks staff saw us renovating benches, attacking weeds, creating loggeries, planting trees… pressing the button on the tail lift. All whilst learning more about each other and bonding over a shared hatred of thistles. 

The day was such a success that Parks is now thinking about starting an in-house programme of team-building. Who knows, instead of Let’s Network [in a coffee shop] Let’s Network Parks could be coming to a green space near you. 

Let me know if you want to know more. 

Re-engineering Hackney content weeknotes 22/09/19

This week sees our last big push to the finish with the search, homepage and navigation to complete. In-site search is on the slide as users simply query in Google; however, once users are in the site, they are more likely to use it so it still needs to be effective. We’re kicking off with the out-the-box WordPress search as it’s already SEO-friendly; we can look to boost with plugins like Cludo or Elastic further down the line. 

Alan and Iain from Comms are starting to think about homepage content for launch. Although much of the Council is task-driven, we do want to encourage a teensy bit of stickiness so people are tempted to explore and discover all the amazing stuff we do beyond the admin of everyday lives. 

We spent much of this week testing the navigation with users to make sure they are able to jump in, out and around the hierarchy. The ongoing issue with recruiting participants for research is not unique to Hackney and is something organisations will farm out to a specialist agency at the earliest opportunity. Luckily, we are not looking for an obscure demographic so we were able to find sufficient volunteers for Wing and Sam Whitlock to interview. One lady recruited via Hotjar was a real bonus for our accessibility testing also. 

It’s Carolina’s last day on Wednesday so we’ve been identifying any final design challenges, focussing on Commercial Property and bits and bobs like icons. Mo is with us for another month and 30 September remains Red Button day. He’s up against it with coding HTML components for the Intranet as well as working on this project but we’re hoping October will be an opportunity to get through at least some of our ‘should’ priorities. 

We’ve formulated the plan for launch and we’re not expecting any major difficulties. We’ll be adding the domain to Netlify (the cloud where we’re hosting the front-end) and Mal Morris’s team will make the DNS switch. This will cause the temporary www3 to revert to www and, BOOM, confetti will fall out of the sky. We will, of course, all be on hand throughout in case a little shrapnel comes along with it. 

We’ve been really sociable this week with not one but two visits from other councils interested in our work. First up was Croydon. It was really refreshing to compare notes on our approaches to ‘redoing the website’, and always reassuring that we face some of the same problems. If we can get our heads together and collaborate on helping user-centred design gain traction at the service level, it will definitely prove to have been a fruitful meeting. 

Next up was Westminster, coming from more of a tech stance. They too are revising their digital offer and we were able to share details of our Thoroughly Modern Mo approach of React and Gatsby alongside WordPress API. We did have a slight chuckle at the misconception that there is a small army of Hackney-ites completing this work. No, it’s just us. 

You never quite know who’s reading these weeknotes and if anyone would notice if I wrote ‘rhubarb’ repeatedly. So it’s nice to know they are of use and can even result in actual, real-life, face-to-face conversations. Who knew?

Re-engineering Hackney content weeknotes 14/09/19

It’s been a whirlwind of a week, as it always is when you come back from holiday. We presented a second iteration of Carolina Gaspari’s homepage to Ben Knowles, which incorporated feedback from the wider Comms team and included four versions of the main promo area. Jennifer Riley and Hannah Saunders from the Intranet project are also in the loop as they’ll be using the same homepage components as the website. 

We now have a solid steer and that should be coded up by the end of next week, upon Mohamed Mulla’s return on Monday. Carolina is only with us for another couple of weeks so we need to sign off all design asap. 

30 September is the date when Goss will switch off the site and we’re all on WordPress. We’ve prioritised the backlog wtih a vengeance. Ultimately, it’s the front-end, consumer-facing user stories with the greatest impact that are getting the focus. It’s going to be tight but we absolutely have to get the homepage, search, image block and navigation through development by then. 

We’ve also MOSCOW’d the bug backlog. It”ll be one heck of a bug that earns itself a ‘must’ in the fixing stakes with all the other competing claims on Mo’s time. The majority are ‘shoulda-couldas’ with the odd ‘won’t’. 

Turns out there’s a 1 October after September. We’ve been thinking about how to support the launched site for a while; and had hoped that front-end developers would have been recruited by now. With much of our estate now coming into WordPress, it’s vital to ensure those skills are brought in with any new hires. We have a couple of interim options so we’re not left high and dry after launch but the front-end resource situation ultimately needs resolving. It shouldn’t be that hard to find them: there’s probably at least one WordPress developer we can hoik off the 242 bus at any one time. 

We can at least automate some of the testing to maintain content quality. Site Improve would be an incredible boost to the site, with its gamification approch to quality assurance, SEO, accessibility and analytics. Without it, the site will degrade and consumer confidence will drop. The funding of software that’s of benefit to every service in the council with a digital presence – ie every service – is another issue that we have to address. Again, we have interim options to fund Site Improve until the wider point is decided by someone on a higher pay grade than us. 

Should we need further evidence that quality is paramount, there’s plenty to read in the Hotjar responses. While we’ve taken down the main survey (it’ll go back up after launch), we’ve retained a poll on some parking pages. Analysis of all responses showed many dissatisfied customers who couldn’t pay their parking fines, largely due to intermittent errors. Upon relaying this to the service, Parking, ICT App Support and the third party supplier really rose to the challenge. Monitoring was extended and the servers beefed up and, so far, there has not been one Hotjar response citing the earlier problem. It’s only been a week and we’ll keep an eye on it but it’s a solid step forward and demonstrates how we work best when we work together. 

We’ve been making more friends along the way with the services that have shown enthusiasm for developing their digital content. Our workshop with Bhupendra Bahari and Davina Rai from Recycling and Waste earlier in the week has generated some immediate and longer term solutions to answer residents’ ‘What can I and can’t I recycle?’ questions. An imminent Rough Sleepers campaign is also on the cards and we’re working with Helen Clarke and Andrew Croucher to see how we can help. 

In tandem, myself and Marian Andoh will be running a workshop next week to flesh out how best we can work with services on digital evolution.

Re-engineering Hackney content weeknotes 29/07/19

Sometimes you need to go a bit [cover your ears, children] Waterfall. We’ve unfinished business on the project and the best way to organise it might just be an old-fashioned schedule:

Navigation and redirects
Security
Left hand navigation
Homepage
Image block
Search
Accessibility testing
End to end testing and bug-fixing

Quite a list. However, work has already started on each one and we reckon we can get it done in the next month. Six weeks allowing for holidays.

We’re continuing to populate the navigation. Early user research showed that, although alphabetical order didn’t actually help anyone find anything [roads and transport; transport and roads, anyone?] it gave comfort to know it was ordered in some way. Further down the road, we may look at Hotjar heatmaps to see which are the most popular and order accordingly. 

The left hand navigation is our next priority. This is only needed on pages that sit on the lowest, fourth level of the content hierarchy. Without it, users can’t get to the village in our country/county/city analogy so we are racing along those B roads to deliver.

Our successor to the landing page is now in code. The existing landing pages (eg /parking or /planning) are essentially navigations featuring two menus that sometimes repeat themselves [no, we’re not sure either]. Our new mechanism is for, eg, /#planning to ping out the expanded Planning navigation so users can select what they want. We’ll test, of course. 

An impromptu brainstorm about the homepage saw us discussing the weighting that should be given to each component. We don’t want to create any more work for content editors but we can at least rank editorial content above the fold, while still providing access to all the services. We also realised we can design image components on the homepage for reuse elsewhere on the site. This negates the need for bespoke templates for pages that warrant a more visual treatment, saving time.

Earlier conversations with Tim in Customer Services paid off when we populated the contact page. We’re not in a position to implement chat bots yet but we have been able to encourage self-service with a simple content redesign. That, in conjunction with direct links on the homepage to key tasks, will hopefully encourage users to seek out what they need 24/7 instead of having to wait for the doors to open downstairs. 

Generally, our users want to be in and out of the Hackney website with minimal fuss. As a heads-up, we’ve added reading times to pages that will take more than a minute to read. Don’t say you weren’t warned, people. 

Lest we lose all of this lovely content, we’ve implemented daily backups using the All In One WordPress Migration plugin, at the princely sum of $99. This means we can restore a clean installation in a matter of minutes. The whole content management system is only 121MB so we’re not breaking the Internet here. The frontend of the website is backed up in GitHub.

Now we’ve done all this designing and coding, we could potentially launch the templates as a theme on WordPress. This would mean other organisations can borrow it and populate with their own content. Our own Intranet site may be the first to try it out.

We could even monetize it. Just leaving that out there.